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2014 SkS Weekly News Roundup #50A

Posted on 9 December 2014 by John Hartz

2014 surprisingly rough on coral reefs, and El Niño looms in 2015

An outbreak of coral bleaching—the loss of corals’ food-producing algae—in the Pacific and the Caribbean occurred this past summer, most likely tied to a brewing El Niño. The reefs of the Florida Keys observed their worst bleaching impacts since 1997-1999, when a major El Niño was quickly followed by a major La Niña. The surprising intensity of bleaching across multiple ocean basins in 2014 has scientists wondering what to expect in 2015, when El Niño is forecasted to finally develop.

2014 surprisingly rough on coral reefs, and El Niño looms in 2015, NOAA, Dec 5, 2014

California just had its worst drought in over 1200 years, as temperatures and risks rise

A new paper published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters by Griffin & Anchukaitis concludes that the 2012–2014 drought in California was its most intense in at least 1,200 years.

The study used drought reconstructions from tree-ring cores, from the North American Drought Atlas (NADA) and from cores Griffin & Anchukaitis collectedfrom blue oak trees in southern and central California. Blue oak tree ring widths are particularly sensitive to moisture changes. According to Griffin,

California’s old blue oaks are as close to nature’s rain gauges as we get

California just had its worst drought in over 1200 years, as temperatures and risks rise by Dana Nuccitelli, Climate Consensus-97%, Guardian, Dec 8, 2014

Cities and markets can fight climate change

Representatives from every national government are meeting this week to work toward a global climate agreement, and the location of the conference — Lima, Peru — offers critically important lessons for negotiators.

In the debate over how to address climate change, there is a glaring gap between the levels of carbon reductions the world must achieve to avert the worst consequences of global warming and the levels of reductions that national governments have been willing to make thus far. Bridging that gap will require cities and businesses — the chief drivers of carbon emissions — to play a leading role, and Lima’s experience points the way forward.

Cities and markets can fight climate change, Op-ed by Michael R. Bloomberg, BloombergView, Dec 8, 2014

Climate neutrality – the lifeboat launched by Lima

Packed into stifling meeting rooms in the Peruvian capital, delegates from 195 countries are trying to find a path that would make it possible for the planet to reach climate neutrality in the second half of this century – the only way to avoid irreversible damage, scientists warn.

Climate neutrality is defined as no net greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, achieved by minimising emissions as much as possible, so an equivalent amount is sequestered or offset. The term climate neutral, rather than carbon neutral, is used to reflect the fact that it is not just carbon dioxide (CO2) that is causing climate change but other greenhouse gases as well.

To reach climate neutrality it is essential to accelerate the transition from a fossil fuel-based economy to one that employs renewable energies.

As the COP20 climate summit hosted by Lima Dec. 1-12 approaches the end, the number of developing countries accepting the proposal to set a climate neutral goal – also known as “net zero” – for 2050 is growing.

Climate Neutrality – the Lifeboat Launched by Lima by Diego Arguedas Ortiz, Inter Press Service (IPS), Dec

Energy firms in secretive alliance with Attorneys General

The letter to the Environmental Protection Agency from Attorney General Scott Pruitt of Oklahoma carried a blunt accusation: Federal regulators were grossly overestimating the amount of air pollution caused by energy companies drilling new natural gas wells in his state.

But Mr. Pruitt left out one critical point. The three-page letter was written by lawyers forDevon Energy, one of Oklahoma’s biggest oiland gas companies, and was delivered to him by Devon’s chief of lobbying.

“Outstanding!” William F. Whitsitt, who at the time directed government relations at the company, said in a note to Mr. Pruitt’s office. The attorney general’s staff had taken Devon’s draft, copied it onto state government stationery with only a few word changes, and sent it to Washington with the attorney general’s signature. “The timing of the letter is great, given our meeting this Friday with both E.P.A. and the White House.”

Mr. Whitsitt then added, “Please pass along Devon’s thanks to Attorney General Pruitt.”

Energy Firms in Secretive Alliance With Attorneys General by Eric Lipton, New York Times, Dec 6, 2014

Eating less meat and dairy essential to curb climate change

You probably know most vegetarians than you used to. You may even know some vegans—people who eat no animal products, including eggs, butter, milk and cheese. But did you know that their dietary habits may be essential to save the planet? A new research paper from UK think tank Chatham House, Livestock—Climate Change’s Forgotten Sector, explains why it may be necessary for a lot more people to go vegetarian or at least dial down their consumption of meat and dairy products, and how to get them to do that. 

Eating Less Meat and Dairy Essential to Curb Climate Change by Anastasia Pantsios, EcoWatch, Dec 5, 2014

Kerry plans to attend climate talks

In a sign of the importance that the Obama administration has placed on the outcome of United Nations climate change negotiations taking place here this week, Secretary of State John Kerry will arrive on Thursday to strongly urge negotiators to reach a deal, according to sources familiar with Mr. Kerry’s plans but unauthorized to speak to the media. Typically, the secretary of state would not join diplomatic negotiations at this level, but Mr. Kerry has made climate change a priority of his tenure.

He spent months helping broker an agreement, announced in November, that commits the United States and China to cutting carbon emissions. That announcement by the world’s two biggest polluters is viewed as a breakthrough with the potential to clear the way for a truly global climate deal, in which every country would commit to cutting fossil-fuel emissions.

Kerry Plans to Attend Climate Talks by Coral Davenport, New York Times, Dec 8, 2014

Lima climate talks split on role of adaptation, finance in new deal

Negotiators at U.N. climate talks in Lima are divided over whether governments should include finance and adaptation commitments in the national offers of action they are due to put forward early next year as the building blocks of a new global climate change deal.

Some developing countries want adaptation efforts to be part of their contributions, arguing it will help determine their needs for funding and technical aid.

The cost of adapting to climate change in developing nations is likely to be at least two to three times higher than previous estimates of $70-100 billion a year by 2050, even with ambitious cuts in planet-warming emissions, according to a new report from the United Nations Environment Programme.

Lima climate talks split on role of adaptation, finance in new deal by Megan Rowling, Thomson Reuters Foundation, Dec 6, 2014

Maps: The countries that have been hardest hit by extreme weather

More than 530,000 people have died between 1994 and 2013 due to extreme weather, according to a new report by the NGO Germanwatch. By compiling a Climate Risk Index, the organization has combined average numbers of deaths and the value of financial losses over the last 20 years to rank the countries that have been most gravely affected by such incidents. In those two decades, about 15,000 extreme weather events have cost the world about $2.2. trillion, the report concludes.

Low- or lower-middle income developing countries accounted for nine out of the 10 worst-affected countries. The countries that have suffered most under extreme weather events in the past 20 years seem to be mostly located in southeast Asia and close to the Caribbean Sea.

Maps: The countries that have been hardest hit by extreme weather by Rick Noak, Washington Post, Dec 5, 2104

Philippines pushes developing countries to cut their emissions

As the torrential rains of Typhoon Hagupit flood the Philippines, driving millions of people from their homes, the Philippine government arrived at a United Nations climate change summit meeting on Monday to push hard for a new international deal requiring all nations, including developing countries, to cut their use of fossil fuels.

It is a conscious pivot for the Philippines, one of Asia's fastest-growing economies. But scientists say the nation is also among the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, and the Philippine government says it is suffering too many human and economic losses from the burning of fossil fuels.

Previously, Philippine negotiators — most notably, climate diplomat Naderev Sa?o, who shot to fame last year after staging a hunger strike in the wake of the deadly Typhoon Haiyan — have not been shy about demanding that the industrialized world cut its carbon emissions.

Philippines pushes developing countries to cut their emissions by Coral Davenport, New York Times, Dec 8, 2014

Peru - a tough place for environmentalists

According to a report of Global Witness, Peru is one of the most dangerous countries for environmentalists. Chris Moye explains to DW why they are murdered and what that may mean for the climate talks in Lima.

Peru - a tough place for environmentalists by Charlotta Lomas, Deutsche Welle (DW), Dec 8, 2014

Reducing Latin America’s carbon footprint means restoring life to degraded lands

Most of the discussions about climate change action focus on energy use and industry, as these sectors drive greenhouse gas emissions in the developed world. But in Latin America, climate change is largely a land use issue.

Nearly half of all greenhouse gas emissions in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) are the result of land-use change, forestry, or agriculture. Between 2001 and 2012, the region lost 36 million hectares of forest and grassland to agricultural expansion. Latin America now holds at least 200 million hectares of degraded land, mostly as a result of unsustainable agriculture practices.

So there’s a clear solution to curbing climate change in the LAC region—restore life to its degraded landscapes.

Reducing Latin America’s Carbon Footprint Means Restoring Life to Degraded Lands by Walter Vergara and Jared Messinger, World Resources Institute, Dec 7, 2014

Reversing global warming, hunger and poverty: Supercharging the global grassroots

A critical mass of climate scientists have warned us repeatedly that we must reduce the concentration of CO2 in the Earth's atmosphere to 350 parts-per-million (ppm) in order to preserve life on Earth.

Unfortunately the business-as-usual behavior of out-of-control corporations, indentured politicians and hordes of mindless consumers, continues to lead to billions of tons of CO2 and greenhouse gases (GHGs) being pumped into our already (398 ppm) supersaturated atmosphere and ocean. By the time major reductions in fossil fuel use take effect—in 20 years, if we’re lucky—it could be too late. By then, we will likely have reached 450 ppm or more, approaching the point of no return, where serious climate instability morphs into climate catastrophe.

While climate scientists sound their alarms on the global warming front, agronomists and hunger experts warn of equally catastrophic events. They tell us that unless we embark on a global campaign to reduce the damages of industrial agriculture, restore soil fertility (especially on the 22 percent of potential arable lands now eroded or desertified), improve crop quality and food nutrition, and conserve water, we face increasing rural poverty, starvation, and permanent food and water wars, especially in Asia, Africa and Latin America, where the majority of the world’s population live. 

These looming disasters—climate catastrophe, and rural poverty, starvation, and food and water wars—are not entirely unrelated. And neither are their solutions.

Reversing Global Warming, Hunger and Poverty: Supercharging the Global Grassroots by Ronnie Cummins, Common Dreams, Dec 5, 2014

The last time the Arctic was ice-free in the summer, humans didn’t exist

Ice has been a relatively constant feature of the Arctic for most of the past 36 million years, but there have been some gaps. Scientists aren’t exactly sure what happened during the most recent major ice-free period, but it’s often considered an analog to our future, warmer Earth. The only difference is, the gap in Arctic sea ice that scientists believe will happen by midcentury is being caused by us.*

Scientists are now piecing together the puzzle in an increasingly urgent attempt to understand what might happen once Arctic ice goes away again, effectively for good. One new study, published last week in the journal Nature Communications, attempts determine what happened during that last major gap in Arctic ice.

The study provides new evidence that the last major gap ended about 2.6 million years ago, after which ice sheets spread southward and humanity’s ancestors began to respond to colder temperatures in Africa, forcing adaptation like the use of stone tools. Humans themselves wouldn’t evolve for more than a million more years.

The last time the Arctic was ice-free in the summer, modern humans didn’t exist by Eric Holthaus, Slate, Dec 2, 2014

UN climate talks call future of energy majors into question

ExxonMobil and Shell would cease to exist in their current forms in 35 years under measures UN negotiators are considering for a legally binding global climate pact to be sealed in Paris next year.

The oil and gas these companies produce, and the coal mined by groups such asRio Tinto, would have to be phased out by 2050 in one proposal at UN climate talks in Lima this week, which aim to smooth a path to the Paris deal.

UN climate talks call future of energy majors into question by Pita Clark, Financial Times, Dec 7, 2014

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  1. Something to add to the next news roundup? Or worthy of its own post?:

    First El Niño in five years declared by Japan’s weather bureau

    "Agency becomes first major meteorological bureau to declare weather phenomenon which can bring severe droughts to south-east Asia and Australia"

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